Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

I'm back! And reading! And maybe even blogging! No promises!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

A Fan Perspective

Okay, so, over at Comics Should Be Good, there's an interesting post about fan involvement in the industry.

And I think there's probably a lot of good points, but one thing sticks out at me:

"I think it was Mark Waid that said writing for comics was the only profession where every one of your customers thinks they can do a better job than you."

This is a very telling line, I think, and I think it's probably true. Most of us do on some level think we can do better. And here's where I'm going to offend a LOT of people.

Why couldn't we?

I don't mean any disrespect to comic creators here, it's a hard job, of course. There's a lot to deal with, deadlines, scripts, editorial management, and probably a load of hassles that aren't coming to mind because it's six in the morning.

But *every* job has hassles. And over time, people start to adapt to them.

Of course, some measure of natural ability has to be involved. Writers have to be good at pacing, dialogue, plot-construction, characterization, pencillers have to be good at rendering faces and bodies semi-realistically and recognizably, still shots, action shots, backgrounds, objects, perspectives and all those other stuff. Inkers and Colorists have their own skill sets too.

But the thing about art is that most people have natural talent in one or more areas and a lot of people work damn hard to develop it into true skills. And opportunity and luck plays as much of a role as hard work. For every musician on the top ten list, there are others equally as good that work just as hard that'll never get the opportunity.

I'm not trying to cheapen the achievements of anyone in the industry by saying this. They've earned their positions. Exercises in Egotism aside, I'm not ever going to try to claim to even approach the level of the professionals. But well, I have to admit, a part of me thinks that if I continue to work at it and hone my skills, maybe someday I *could*.

Egotistic? Probably. Arrogant? Very likely. But it's natural, I think.

And in stuff like DC and Marvel, well it's going to be even crazier, and even more understandable.

Because well, I'm sorry, but most of those toys you industry guys are playing with, are ones you didn't make.

Gail Simone might write the definitive Barbara Gordon in my eyes, but she didn't *create* Barbara Gordon. Geoff Johns's Hal Jordan is *the* modern Hal Jordan, but he's still last in a long line of writers to take on the character.

I mean, hell, if there are people out there criticizing Ron Marz's Kyle in Homecoming as not coinciding with his development in the series and JLA, when he created the *damn character*, we're sure as hell not going to go easy on you guys.

You industry guys grew up on these comics, right? Well, *so did we*. Even those of us who got into comics late have always had some idea growing up who Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the X-Men are. And it's not like we can't go digging for back issues to catch ourselves up.

Basically though, we've all got these ideas about the characters. We've got invested emotions and interpretations and perspectives that don't necessarily agree with yours.

And really, what makes any of our interpretations more valid than anyone else's?

What makes yours more valid than ours? (Aside from the not-inconsiderable fact that the company supports you and pays you for it.)

What makes *the company's* opinion more valid than ours? Even the oldest execs, I'd reckon, were pretty damn young in 1938.

One could argue that the only man who's opinion of Batman should be given any more weight than anyone else's is Bob Kane!

And one could argue that given the public nature of the character and the twists and turns and development that's happened since Mr. Kane passed the character down, even *he* should be in the same boat as the rest of us. After all, didn't a lot of people condemn Burton's movies because Batman doesn't kill? I remember seeing Kane's Batman with a gun!

Basically, what it comes down to, is that we're all kids from the same neighborhood, who've grown up playing on the same playground. As we grew up, you guys inherited the playground. You guys have kept it up, maintained it so we all can keep playing, which we appreciate. But we resent you at the same time. We know we're playing on it on your sufferance and we don't really have a say in whether you replace the old creaky metal slide with a new pretty plastic one. And whether we like that slide or not, a part of us might still think, "Well, what makes *them* so special, why did they get this place when we didn't? Why do *they* get to make these decisions and we don't?"

Is this particularly fair to you? Probably not. But it's not like you didn't know what you were getting into. You've been in our position too.

Besides, in the end, we fans *do* get the real say in what works and what doesn't. We judge with our wallets and as long as you're a business, that's the way it should be. You're in the entertainment industry, which means without us, no matter how talented you are, you don't really have a career.

And we're still going to tell you when we think you've fucked up. Deal with it.


  • At May 20, 2006 8:21 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    I don't disagree with what you say in some sense.

    Like you, I don't have anywhere near the ability that the professionals do.

    But some sense of "Well, maybe once I've studied more/if someone'd give me a shot, I'd be just as good" is inevitable, I think.

    It's not a question of whether that's a true sentiment or not, it's an understandable one. It's not like most of us would ever really get the chance to try.

    For every Jim Shooter, there're folks that are pretty ordinary types like us who get where they are due to hard work, talent and good luck. So while it's an extremely unlikely dream to get that far, it's not necessarily impossible.

    And you're right, we could stop buying Nightwing, I sure did...

    But when you've grown up liking Dick Grayson the character, getting attached to reading about his adventures with Batman or the Titans or whereever he is at the time, and suddenly well, he's turned into this guy that seems to bear no resemblance to the original...(whether through fault of writer or editorial mandate)

    Well, the fans who are upset about that do have the right to be upset about it.

    Some people definitely take it too far though. Folks with the threats of violence, people who send hate mail or invade privacy are crossing many many lines.

    But average normal people can be upset and angry too, and it seems like a fair response to me.

    And as for Manhunter/Thing vs. Wolverine. The audience *is* voting with their wallets. Unfortunately, we're on the losing side. That's the problem. There're a LOT of Wolverine fanboys out there. Not as many folk will go and try something new.

    It's not fair, but it's still the audience ruling. Which sometimes sucks.
    (And go write blog entries darnit!)

  • At May 20, 2006 8:55 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Firefly getting cancelled made me very sad. There were parts of it I loved and parts I didn't like but it was new and fun!

    And yeah, there are some scary people out there. Some measure of emotional connection is good and even expected, but there's emotional connection and justifiable anger and then there's...whatever the fuck that is. I've only met one guy in person like that, (I hadn't actually thought people like that really existed!) and he was a piece of work.

    Egads, I'm just lucky I'd been reading for a while by that point and met enough fellow geeks to know that the majority are rational and *sane*, or else that might have scared me away from fandom entirely.

    (Blogging is rewarding though! Causes a warm fuzzy feeling, like food poisoning without the throwing up. :-P)

  • At May 20, 2006 9:28 AM, Blogger Marionette said…

    I totally agree.

    In fact I think that anyone who ever thinks to themselves "I could do better than this crap" should actually try writing an issue. And not some wish-fulfilment fanfic, but a full script complete with art direction and entirely in current continuity.

    At the very least it would give them some basic insight into the process, particularly after their friends had picked up on every tiny error and torn it to shreds.

    Oh, better make that six issues. Real comic writers rarely sign on for less than that with any one comic.

  • At May 20, 2006 9:33 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    anthony: Heh, you're lucky.

    (Aww, but then...hmm...well, you could try doing both at once, but that might get messy.)

    marionette: That's not even counting any editorial decisions or plans.

    "Okay, we're planning this big DCU wise crossover, with this character, this character, this one and that. To prepare for this, we need character X to be temporarily replaced by character Y, and character Z three issues."


    Heh, it must be a really hard job honestly...but it kind of sounds like fun too. :-) (I'm a little weird though)

  • At May 20, 2006 10:02 AM, Blogger Brett said…

    It sounds harsh and I know it is a hassle, but the creators should be bloody thankful that people second guess them. People only do that for things they care about. There are tons of comic creators, TV shows and musicians who never get second guessed becaused nobody sees or cares about their product. It might be a pain to be second guessed, but I would put up with it and smile as much as humanly possible if it was me.

  • At May 20, 2006 10:05 AM, Blogger Seth T. Hahne said…

    I think that one of the things that makes it so much easier for the I-can-do-it-better mentality to exist is the fact that with all the comic writers out there currently (and even throughout history), so few have been really good at their jobs.

    It's kind of like with pulp detective stories. Out of thousands of authors, there was only one Raymond Chandler, only one Dashiell Hammett. With that in mind, it's very possible that at least a segment of the fan base could write as well as a segment of the comicbook writing community.

    Should they? Nope. Because the last thing comics needs is more of the typical, more of the pedestrian.

    Myself, in all the years of reading comics and all the years of reading stories that disappointed me on one level or another, I've never once thought that I could do it better. Though I'm actually trained as a writer. Maybe that's a difference between fans and rabid fans, I don't know.

    What I have done, and frequently do still, is think: Crap, why do they have [current author] writing this book? [Other author] could probably do a much better job. It's a different angle on the same question, but seems more reasonable to me, as I recognize the difficulty of scripting a book and realize the previously mentioned fact that of all the comicbook writers out there, precious few have been great at their jobs.

  • At May 20, 2006 1:04 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    brett: There is that too. But sometimes, admittedly, people take it too far.

    the dane: I find myself doing that too, based on what I think each comic writer is best at.

    Or suggesting team ups, I always thought for example that Mr. Willingham and Ms. Grayson would balance well as co-writers. Willingham's strengths are in keeping distance from his characters and revealing inner layers gradually. Grayson goes all out inside their heads. He keeps things very slow paced, but not boring. She's action-action-action.

    Combined, they'd be perfect for say, a Gotham solo book, which on their own is not as great a fit.

    Or Geoff Johns and Ron Marz. I've always thought Johns was really good at plots and characterization, but weaker with pacing and dialogue. Especially pacing, as I tend to think most of his stories could be pared down to half as many issues without really losing any meaning/emotion/depth. Whereas pacing and dialogue are what I think Mr. Marz's strengths are. So a combination seems like it should work brilliantly!

    I suppose that's a whole other form of arrogance. But it's fun!

  • At May 21, 2006 1:47 AM, Blogger Mickle said…

    "I think it was Mark Waid that said writing for comics was the only profession where every one of your customers thinks they can do a better job than you."

    Well, most fans think that - no matter what the topic. Even sports fans who obviously cannot play the game to save their life think they know better than the manager, coach, etc.

    From what I can tell, the main difference between comics and other media is the fact that the fanbase is considered to be pretty homogeneous (perhaps even more than it actually is). Comic books are routinely treated as if they were a genre rather than a media; while TV in general does not create a rabid fanbase, certain genres/shows do - like Firefly.

    The narrower customer base means that comic makers feel the need to listen to complaints more often, and fans feel more justified in voicing them. It probably also doesn't help that, since it is a less common "hobby" that requires a larger amount of work to get - and stay - into. Comic book readers are more likely than your average television viewer to be a true fan of the series in question. Add in the fact that the same characters are often constantly recycled, and yeah, you're really going to get more complaints.

    So, really, the only solution is to expand the customer base and try to make reading comics as common as watching TV. Something that I'm not really sure most fans or writers actually want.

  • At May 21, 2006 1:55 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    It's pretty inevitable though. Cross-genre comics are more and more common, manga and Indy comics are spreading the medium in this country slowly and steadily.

    So they're gonna have to adapt, I guess. :-) We'll have to see what it's like in 10-20 years. :-)

  • At May 21, 2006 10:18 AM, Blogger Marionette said…

    We'll have to see what it's like in 10-20 years. :-)

    Right, so it's back here in 2016. I'll bring pie.

  • At May 21, 2006 12:30 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    I call sodas!

  • At May 21, 2006 3:08 PM, Blogger Mickle said…

    Yeah, I think it's pretty inevitable too.

    I just wonder if the major companies are deliberately leaving themselves behind in the dust.

    Sorry, I'm just a little annoyed with them at the moment. I realized the other day, as I was futzing with one of the "required" kid's books displays this month, that not only is Rogue the only female superhero on the Superhero display with her own book, but none of the books are comic books. All of them are based on comic book characters, most of them are new, but none of them are comics for kids. I have frickin' My Little Pony Cine-manga by Tokyopo sitting in the pre-school section for crissakes - but no Superman or X-Men movie tie-in comics for the kiddies.

    I know you all love arguing about Civil War, Infinite Crisis, and 52 - and I'm not saying they were bad ideas - I'm just saying that if the major companies put just a fraction of the time and energy into attracting new kids as they do keeping you all happy, they'd be a lot better off.

  • At May 21, 2006 3:18 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    I'd really like to see DC and Marvel start a few books aimed toward young adults, (I think I mention an idea for this in my exercise in egotism for Jade

    Robin used to be good for it, but Steph's torture was a mistake in *that* book, and leaves me leery of later books.

    Ultimate F4 is one that I think works for young adults. Teen Titans still has some appeal in that sense and maybe if the rumors of a new Infinity Inc series are true, that'd help too. A lot of the Toonverse comics seem okay for kids, but it's still a pretty limited market.

    It's a shame about this lack, because it doesn't seem like it'd be hard to put out a few more YA books a month. Some for young girls, some for kids, some for boys, it'd be pretty easy!

  • At May 21, 2006 5:01 PM, Blogger Mickle said…

    You'd think, wouldn't you?

    I think the part that is really annoying me is that Marvel and DC rented the X-Men and Superman rights outs to Harper Collins and Little, Brown so they could make picture books aimed at kids 3-12 based on the most recent movies, but it apparently never even occured to either comic book publisher to bother to write their own comic books for kids based on these comic book inspired movies.

    Those My Little Pony books I mentioned are aimed at first graders. Tokyopop makes them in part because it's not that difficult to change illustrated books around so that the pictures are an intregal part of the storytelling rather than just there to make things more interesting. There's not a whole lot of difference between the way the really great children's books illustrators (like Mo Willems) use pictures and words and the way comic book writers use them. But there is quite a bit of difference between both of these and the way most of the cheap little movie-tie-in storybooks use pictures.

    It's just very sad to me that two companies that rely on people understanding how to read pictures would miss such a perfect opportunity to prevent beginning and new readers from dissasociating pictures from storytelling.

    Anyway, I had a really long rant about this and some other things that blogger ATE, so I'll stop here and save it for my rewrite.

  • At May 21, 2006 5:02 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Ahh, I see what you mean. It'd be nice.

    Though now I'm picturing X-Men picture books in the style of Sesame Street.

    Naturally it'd star Wolverine. :-P

  • At May 21, 2006 5:56 PM, Blogger Mickle said…

    of course : )

    (I'll use this opportunity to interject that Molly from Runaways annoyed the crap out of me - until she made some comment about joining the X-Men and marrying Wolverine when she grew up. That is just so ten-year-old-girl that I just had to love her from then on.)

    And, ahem, speaking of Sesame Street....

    Stuff like this is why our new graphic novel section for elementary school kids is being called manga.

  • At May 21, 2006 6:45 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Aw, that sounds adorable actually!

    And hee. Sesame Street Manga! Cute!

  • At May 22, 2006 3:40 AM, Blogger Mickle said…

    They are actually. There was even one especially cute one that featured just Cookie Monster - but I can't find it anymore. :(

  • At May 22, 2006 4:58 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Aww. :-( My sympathies.

  • At May 22, 2006 3:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Speaking as a historian, I can say that comics are not even vaguely the only profession where your customers think they can do better than you. Teachers of any kind frequently get no respect for their skills or the difficulty of teaching 30 or more people at once. Lots of people even try to backseat drive even doctors and lawyers and other people who have graduate degrees. Just about EVERY service industry worker has to deal with people who want to tell him how to do his job. And every kind of writer faces people who think they can write better.

    And often, they can. There's a ton of people with the talent to be professional writers who will either never get the break they need to get their stuff published to a large audience or who only do it as a hobby because they don't want to spend a decade starving in the process of trying to break in.

    Heck, I've read lots of terrible, terrible fanfics, but I've also read ones that were better than the original source material.

  • At May 22, 2006 4:07 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    People are inherently arrogant. We all think we can do better, we all like to tell someone how to do their jobs. :-)

    And we all tend to think anything irritating that happens is specific to us, rather than something that happens to everybody. :-)

    (To be fair though, with regards to fanfic, writing a prose novel has similar techniques, but writing a comic script is a whole other kettle of fish. Technique wise, but that's not to say people can't learn...)

  • At May 24, 2006 2:49 PM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    Re: comics for kids - I think there was a whiplash reaction to the Comics Code Authority once it was done away with. After spending decades being forced to keep comics "kid-friendly," I think a lot of creators were almost obsessed with making superheroes more "mature" and "adult-oriented;" I see Dark Knight Returns as a major turning point in that regard. And I'm all for comics which tackle serious themes - or just ramp up the gratuitous violence and shameless titillation for shallow gratification ;-) - but I also recognize that without superhero books specifically aimed at kids, how can you hope to attract new fans early on?

    There were other issues too: rising publishing costs meant comics became more expensive and out of reach for a lot of kids; comics gradually got pushed into specialty stores and away from the racks you used to see in drugstores et al (though possibly before the time of everyone else here); other distractions, like videogames, demanded time and money from kids; and so forth. But I also think comics companies largely ignored the younger audience to their own detriment. They should've taken a page from the cigarette companies: hook `em young, hook `em for life.

  • At May 24, 2006 3:16 PM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    Superhero comics are unique among all narrative forms and genres, because it's just about the only one where the characters have been around for decades, their stories have been told by many, many hands (with varying degrees of skill), and their adventures are continuously ongoing. Other forms of serial narrative aren't quite the same. E.g., TV shows generally have many people working them, but their lives are measured in years, not decades; and you typically have the same core cast of actors and producers to ensure there is a certain measure of uniformity. [Star Trek and maybe Doctor Who are the only major exceptions I can think of off the top of my head.] Other long-running comics - e.g. Usagi Yojimbo, Strangers in Paradise - often have a single creative vision behind them.

    So there's all this accumulated history to the DC and Marvel universes - despite the periodic retcons, reboots, and plain ol' inconsistencies - spread across decades. There's a sense of shared experiences which color superheroes in ways no other genre is: each writer and artist puts their own spin on characters. And it's easy for fans to not only pick their favorite characters, but also pick their favorite creators or eras or storylines. So what one fan considers the "definitive" version of Batman or Wonder Woman or Superman, another considers a travesty.

    It's part of the unique fabric of superheroics. It's also why I never, ever, ever make the mistake of delving into superhero forums.

  • At May 24, 2006 5:37 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    ferrous: I agree on both accounts.

    Moreover, with DC in particular, when you've got characters that come from as early as 1938, that puts even their current writers in the same boat as the fans. And no fan can completely agree on the definitive version. Even with the company. :-)


Post a Comment

<< Home